14 October 2022
Earlier this summer I attended one of the earliest “re- opening” meetings of the Fellowship Group here in Oakville, and the feelings of joy, relief and inspiration that I experienced are hard to describe. I was asked to interpret three of the slogans, and said yes despite feeling a bit overwhelmed by the situation. One of the slogans I picked (not even sure it was one of their regular slogans) because I really wanted to share on it was “No Longer Alone.”
What I shared was that the covid era had been a time of considerable loneliness for me personally. I’m sure every AA member experienced this to some degree, and I’m also sure some are still in that place. I also shared that what helped me get through this often dark period was writing letters back and forth to my corrections correspondent who is incarcerated in Washington state. Normally Americans are matched with Americans and Canadians are matched with Canadians, but through either a mix -up or lack of volunteers we ended up together.
It ended up being a match made in heaven, even though we were both going through hell. And as our literature comments we are ordinarily people who would not mix. He likes football, I like baseball. He likes NASCAR, I like Formula 1. And I guess most importantly, we are at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Not getting involved in that outside issue was vital in maintaining our relationship, which was based on love of AA, sobriety, and one alcoholic helping another alcoholic through tough times.
As it turned out, we had a lot in common, mainly a love of writing. He sent me a short story that got a perfect mark in his correspondence creative writing course. We exchanged poems even though I hadn’t written one in decades. And then, on one of the happiest days of my recovery, he told me a story he had submitted to Grapevine had been accepted and would appear in this year’s prison issue. It took great restraint on my part not to buy all of the Fellowship’s copies in July. Check it out if you are so inclined – it’s called “Essential Worker.”
There have been many “Godincidences” in our correspondence. He loves birds, and ravens in particular, often drawing them in the margins of his letters. On the day that he sent me his first poem about a raven, I noticed that one of the answers of the daily crossword was “The Raven.” His favourite singer is John Denver, and the last song my father sang in the hospital before he died this year was “Country Roads.” When I wrote to Sean to tell him this he said a chill went up his spine. He had been singing that very song out loud at about the same time as my father’s death. When my sister and I left the hospital after my father passed on, I couldn’t find my phone and asked her to pull into a parkette on Lakeshore Drive to see if I could find it. As she put the car in park, I looked out the window near the car and saw a raven staring at me. I hadn’t seen a raven in the wild for at least 30 years.
Corresponding with him was stressful at times. At one point there was a significant gap in our correspondence, and my mind went to a dark place. Had he died in prison? Had he relapsed? He had told me that drugs and alcohol were readily available in his prison and that he had the means to obtain them. On the other hand he had achieved over 8 years of sobriety in a prison that had regular meetings before covid. He had a strong belief in a higher power that we both choose to call God. He had finally met his sister face to face again after ten years of estrangement. He was regularly in touch with his son and was on fairly good terms with his ex. He was taking correspondence courses and wanted to work as a counsellor after release. He was working in prison and had graduated to a supervisory role. He had an abundance of time to pursue his passion for reading and his passion for writing. What happened? Why did he stop writing??
Eventually a short note I sent him made it his way and he responded. For whatever reason my previous letter did not reach him and he thought I had “ghosted” him. We rebuilt trust over the next few letters, culminating in the publication of his Grapevine article.
I immediately wrote him back and congratulated him. I was still really excited and wrote him another letter within days. Normally I re-read the letters before sending them off to make sure I have avoided outside issues or anything else that might trigger him in the extremely volatile and often violent world he lives in. When I re-read the draft I had written, something seemed off that I couldn’t quite put my finger on so I decided not to send it. That day’s crossword had the word “raven” in it. I took that as a sign that I had made the right call.
And then another gap. Having worried a lot the last time this happened, I decided to let go and let God this time. It just was bad timing so soon after his Grapevine article got published. In my excitement I suggested that his article would be read by thousands and help many, many people, and as I waited through the rest of the summer I wondered if I had scared him off with that comment. So this was where the story was going to end for this issue of Focus.
Walked to the store pleased with the story I had written and was okay if I never heard from him again.
No ravens to be seen and was going to listen to John Denver’s greatest hits when I got home. Checked the mailbox at the last minute even though we hardly ever get mail on Fridays.
And there it was, with the big American flag stamp and the warning from the Washington State Department of Corrections. Might as well have been a cheque for a million dollars.
In American currency of course.